(A Sermon for Christmas Eve/Day, by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Jn. 1:14). ______________________________________________________________________
James Hewett tells the following story: "I read about a grandfather who found his grandson jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, "Out Gramps, out." It was only natural for the grandfather to reach down to lift him out of his predicament, but as he did the mother of the child stepped up and said "No, Johnnie, you are being punished-- so you must stay in." The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child's tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart. But the mother's firmness in correcting her son must not be taken lightly. But love found a way. The grandfather could not take the grandson out of the playpen, so he climbed in with him. Beloved that is what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us at Christmas. In leaving heaven for earth He climbed in with us."
In our passage from John's gospel; in his fascinating Prologue to the gospel; in words so inspired, profound and lofty, that it is as if we are soaring through the very gates of heaven--John tells us: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." Or, in the words of Rev. Dr. William Barclay: "So the Word became a person, and took up his abode in our being, full of grace and truth; and we looked with our own eyes upon his glory, glory like the glory which an only son receives from a father."
In this verse, we encounter one of the most beautiful, simple, yet, at the same time, most mysterious realities of our faith. The Fourth Gospel, unlike Matthew and Luke, does not speak of Christ's birth in a narrative, story form. Rather, this gospel approaches Christ's birth in a deeply theological fashion.Therefore, for us to appreciate more profoundly the message of Christ's birth in John's gospel; we'll take a closer look at the deeper meaning John pacts into his language.
First, he says: "And THE WORD became flesh…" According to this gospel, "the Word" is full-to-overflowing with meaning. The Word hearkens back to the creation of the universe by God--God spoke, and the heavens and the earth, all of creation came into being. The Hebrew word for Word is "Dabar," which combines words with actions. "Dabar," in the Hebrew sense, involved an intrinsic unity of word and action, which included creative energy and power. For the rabbis, the Torah --the first 5 books of the Old Testament-- was with God in the beginning; through the Torah all things were made; it brought life and light to all people. This language of the rabbis about the Torah is exactly the same language as John's gospel about the Word. Before creation and during creation, the Word existed with God and created all things; bringing life and light to all people.
In addition to the Hebrew meaning of the Word, John's gospel uses the Greek word "Logos." For those with a Greek-thinking mind; the "Logos" meant the all-encompassing reason, which knows, understands, and orders the entire universe. The Fourth Gospel, in combining both these Hebrew and Greek concepts of the Word goes even further by speaking of the Word as A Real, Live, True Human Being, like us.
John says, "the Word BECAME FLESH…" The single, most unique quality of Christianity that makes it different than all other faiths is GOD BECOMING FULLY HUMAN IN JESUS CHRIST. In Jesus, we have One who is in complete solidarity with us. He was born like us; he laughed and cried like us; he grew hungry, thirsty, and tired like us; he expressed anger, disappointment and loneliness like us; he had similar temptations as ours--except without sinning; he had similar needs, hopes and dreams as ours; in short, nothing in all of our humanness was foreign to Jesus--he shares it all with us. He had skin, muscles, bones internal organs, blood and all of the other anatomical and biological features that are present in every human being. He was fully human. Unlike so many other religions, which hate and condemn matter, the world, human flesh--Christianity honors and celebrates our humanity. One 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, expressed how worldly Christmas really is, when he said that the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh is the most secular event in world history. In other words, by taking on human flesh; by becoming a human being; the Incarnate Word, Christ is deeply concerned with and profoundly active in everything that happens in this world. God in Christ is like that grandfather climbing into his grandson's playpen with him because God loves us and the whole world so much.
This leads us to focus on what John says next: "And the Word became flesh AND LIVED AMONG US…" The word "lived" here in the Hebrew and Greek carries with it the meaning of: pitching one's tent; tabernacling, dwelling, abiding among us. Here, once again, just as Christ the Word takes us back to the beginning of creation and the new creation in him; so, too, Christ pitching his tent among us takes us back to the history of Israel. Just as the tabernacle was the sign of God's presence among the ancient Israelites on their journey through the wilderness--so, too, Jesus, in his full humanity living among us is God's presence here on earth as we journey through this life. This is what Karl Barth referred to as: "The condescension of God." Jesus, unlike so many other great personages of history, didn't live as a remote, high and mighty king in some royal palace. Rather, he pitched his human tent in the midst of life. Jesus as the Eternal Word had good reason to remain highly removed, lofty as the Holy One of heaven. Yet, that's not what he does--he becomes one of us and surprises, even shocks us by associating with people whom we'd least expect God to associate with! He was with the ordinary folk of the land; especially those who were marginalised: the poor, the sick, the blind, the tax-collectors and sinners, the prostitutes and other outcast street-people. In loving, accepting, serving, healing, caring for these kind of peoples; Christ was showing us all where our priorities are to be and how we are to live. Christ the Word Incarnate has social, ethical and political implications for our lives.
According to Brian Hebblethwaite: "Christians have drawn out the ethical significance of a religion of the Incarnation. The material creation is not alien to God if the Word has become flesh. Christian spirituality takes the body seriously as the vehicle, not the enemy, of spiritual life. Christian involvement in the thoroughly earthly problems and needs of their fellow human beings is patterned on the divine 'kenosis' (self-emptying) of the Incarnation. This is bound to take on social and political dimensions. A religion of the Incarnation cannot hold aloof from the political problems of injustice and oppression. Incarnational theology is at once a sacramental theology, finding spiritual significance in the things of the earth, and a political theology, drawing on those spiritual resources for a renewal and transformation of the condition of life on earth."
Christmas is the most down-to-earth celebration of the church year. In the Incarnation, Christ has come seeking after each one of us: to celebrate our humanity, to make holy the things of this earth, to usher in a new created order by renewing, restoring, reconciling us and all of creation with God. In the person of Jesus, we are given the clearest possible revelation of who God is for us--a God of all-encompassing Love. And so, we, too, can celebrate and sing along with Martin Luther: "All praise to you, eternal Lord, Clothed in garb of flesh and blood, A manger choosing for a throne While world on worlds are yours alone. Hallelujah!" Amen.